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5780: The Year of Environmental Teshuva

We are in a global environmental crisis.
Jewish tradition compels us to respond.

 

Now more than ever, we must stand up and asses the role that our actions play in creating the world we live in. We are called to make a change, to create a healthier and more sustainable world for all.

What is teshuva?

Teshuva or “return” is a Jewish practice of turning inward and reflecting on the transgressions we make as human beings while acknowledging that what was done in the past does not have to be repeated in our future. The practice of teshuva offers us an opportunity to face our negative actions and create a new path forward.

Traditionally, we practice teshuva from the first day of the Hebrew month of Elul through the last day of Sukkot reflecting on how we can strive to be our best selves in the coming year. But Elul is not the only time we can embrace this practice. We invite you to continue your journey of teshuva throughout 5780.

What is environmental teshuva?

Environmental teshuva is the outward manifestation of our commitment to doing better for the planet. As you examine your individual impact on the planet, consider:

  • How do you relate to the planet or the climate crisis? What inspires you from the natural world?
  • Which of your behaviors do you know are less than ideal? Consider the implications of your diet and transportation habits.
  • What are one or two areas in which you will commit to do better?

In August 2019, Hazon had four video billboards displayed in Times Square. We debuted the message “5780: The Year of Environmental Teshuva.” Watch the video.

In April 2020, over 1,000 people around the world joined #SoundTheCall, an effort to awaken the world to the need for #EnvironmentalTeshuva. Watch the video.

Take a Stand – Environmental Advocacy

We believe powerfully in the strength of individual and community action but we also acknowledge that addressing climate change requires action on many levels, including by advocating for Federal policies that protect our environment. At Hazon we strive to elevate the good work of partner organizations while also supporting important legislation that furthers the work we are so passionate about. We invite you to join us!

  • Sign up for our Action Alerts! Every few weeks Hazon staff gather the latest information about Federal agriculture policy and share it broadly with an invitation to take action. We believe that farmers are on the front line of climate change and supporting sustainable agriculture is one of the best ways to heal our planet. Email jofee@hazon.org to sign up! View previous Action Alerts.
  • The National Religious Partnership for the Environment is seeking support from religious leaders in CO, AZ, ME, IA, SC, TX, NY or WI to support the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The sign on letter urges the current administration to stop the sale of oil leases in the Arctic Refuge and land of the Gwich’in people, who rely on the refuge for their food, livelihoods and spiritual life.
  • Plant Powered Metro New York is a health empowerment effort, fueled primarily by volunteers, which is raising awareness about the power of whole food, plant-based nutrition to prevent, treat, and even reverse chronic illness. They teach about the science of plant-based diets as well as support people and institutions in making the transition to plant-based lifestyles and policies/culture.

We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast

by Jonathan Safran Foer

We enthusiastically encourage you to read We Are the Weather and share it with your friends, families, and communities. It is a superb, readable, and very Jewish explication of how, why and in what ways our food choices matter. Hazon created a discussion guide for Jewish communities to accompany the book, which you can download for free.

Interested in hosting a book group or program related to We Are the Weather, or anything at the intersection of Judaism, food, and climate? Contact Becky O’Brien, Hazon’s Director of Food & Climate, and download our WATW Discussion Guide for Jewish Communities.

Resources

Sustainability Tips

  1. Eat a plant-rich diet. Commit to eating less meat – red meat, poultry, and seafood – as well as less dairy and eggs. The Worldwatch Institute’s research indicates that animal agriculture is responsible for at least 51% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Everyone is starting from a different place, so “less” is different for everyone. Any amount of reduction is a step in the right direction.
  2. Waste less food. Buy only what you need. Eat leftovers. Create an “eat me first” section in your fridge for food that’s running out of time. “Best by,” “sell by,” and other dates are not expiration dates; trust your senses to tell you whether food is still safe to eat. 50% of produce in the US is never consumed and globally, “a third of the food raised or prepared does not make it from farm or factory to fork. Producing uneaten food squanders a whole host of resources—seeds, water, energy, land, fertilizer, hours of labor, financial capital—and generates greenhouse gases at every stage—including methane when organic matter lands in the global rubbish bin. The food we waste is responsible for roughly 8 percent of global emissions.” (from Project Drawdown)
  3. Get to know and buy from local farmers. Give local farmers your money (in exchange, of course, for delicious food)! Sukkot is the harvest festival. Invite your favorite farmer into your sukkah for a meal and ask him/her how the harvest is going. Don’t know a farmer? Go to a local farmers market or farm stand and introduce yourself. And then, support these hardworking people by spending some of your food budget with them.
  4. Reduce packaging, especially plastic. Pay attention to how your food is packaged and aim for less packaging overall and for better packaging. Avoid plastics, especially single-use. By 2050, there could be more plastic in the ocean than fish! Buy in bulk. Bring your own reusable bags when you go shopping – small ones for bulk products and produce, and large ones for all the groceries. Support companies that strive to reduce the amount of packaging they use and incorporate recycled content into their packaging.
  5. Take a break – one day a week. Embrace the Jewish cycle of work/rest and luxuriate in Shabbat. Taking one day a week to refrain from activities that draw upon large amounts of fossil fuels not only gives you a much needed mini-vacation each week, this simple action adds up. View the Green Sabbath Project for how you can embrace Shabbat and save the planet!

Sermons and Divrei Torah

Hazon has collected close to 30 sermons and d’vrei Torah that focus on Environmental Teshuva. Explore the ways that Jewish clergy and spiritual leaders across the country have engaged with Environmental Teshuva this holiday season on our Resources For Rabbis & Spiritual Leaders page. If you would like us to share your words, please email Rabbi Isaiah Rothstein.

Learn Where Your Food Comes From

Most people have some sense that food is central to Jewish life and Jewish tradition, but they’re far less aware that individual food choices are among the top anthropogenic drivers of climate change. Hazon has compiled these resources for you to make educated food choices.

 

JTree

What is JTree?
Hazon is proud to host the US site for JTree. JTree is an emerging international effort of Jewish organizations to mobilize Jewish people and Jewish communities around the world to plant trees as a response to the global climate crisis.
Learn more

 

Earth Challenge 5780

A project of Jewish Emergent Network

We must respond to the climate crisis by establishing new spiritual, social, and consumer norms. Jewish Emergent Network leaders have created a series of simple challenges to help us shift one habit at a time so that we can move effectively and collectively toward systemic change. #Earth5780

May Earth Challenge

Explore a Whole Food, Plant-Based Diet
In the face of the climate crisis, we must establish new spiritual, social and consumer norms. We’re working to shift one habit at a time so that we can move effectively and collectively toward systemic change. Join us in taking on these monthly challenges! #Earth5780

Right now we’re experiencing a radical disruption in our way of living because of COVID-19. The Earth Challenge was designed to respond to a different crisis, one that is unfolding more slowly, but that will be no less deadly. We’re learning through this pandemic that what seemed unimaginable societal change is possible when people choose to act even in our fear and vulnerability for the collective good.

TORAH:
Rabbi Aaron Potek, Sixth & I
The verse “You may eat meat whenever you desire” (Deuteronomy 12:20) might lead one to assume
that reducing or eliminating our meat consumption isn’t a Jewish value. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook had a different understanding. He noticed a “hidden reprimand between the lines of the Torah in the sanction to eat meat.”

The permission to eat meat, according to Rav Kook, is dependent on our desire to eat it – a desire we
should try to moderate and, eventually, eliminate. “When the time comes for the human condition to abhor [eating] the flesh of animals, because of the moral loathing inherent in that act, you surely will not ‘have the desire to eat meat,’ and you will not eat it.”

Yes, technically the Torah permits the eating of meat, but this is, as Rabbi Samuel H. Dresner writes, “a compromise, a divine concession to human weakness and human need.” The ultimate spiritual ideal is a
purely vegetarian diet, which is why our tradition understands that Adam and Eve, the original humans,
were prohibited from eating meat. The various laws of kashrut are intended to push us in that direction
– limiting the types of animals we can eat, limiting the way those permitted animals can be killed, and
limiting the ways we can eat those kosher animals.

In so many ways, we are not currently living out our ideals. But we can each take a step toward
redemption by further sensitizing ourselves to the preciousness of all life.

Read about Ethical Kashrut and JewishVeg.org

SCIENCE:
Switching to a diet based on plants in minimally processed forms is the single most impactful personal change you can make to decrease your environmental footprint.
Making the switch to a whole foods plant based diet provides all of the following benefits:

HEALTH

● Maximize your immunity to viral infection, including COVID-19, and reduce the spread of
infectious diseases and pandemics
● Prevent or reverse heart disease, diabetes, obesity and hypertension, and lower your risk of
certain cancers and Alzheimer’s disease
● Reduce the threat of antibiotic-resistant superbugs caused by the overuse of antibiotics on
livestock
● Limit your exposure to high levels of toxins found in most animal products

HUMAN AND ANIMAL WELFARE

● Stop supporting an industrial meat production system that exploits workers and is especially
dangerous for workers during the COVID19 pandemic
● Reduce cruel animal-farming practices

ENVIRONMENT, ANIMAL SPECIES, and CLIMATE WELLBEING

Slow climate warming by decreasing emissions from livestock farming
● Contribute to a greater abundance of food to feed a growing global population
● Significantly reduce the amount of water needed to produce our food
● Save rainforests and the wild animal species critically endangered by clearing forests for
industrial animal agriculture
● Limit damage to ocean wildlife and fish species caused by overfishing
● Reduce the quantity of food wasted in processing and packaging by choosing whole foods

Changing your eating habits by replacing animal products with whole-plant foods can achieve all of these benefits–to your health, to farm workers, to animal welfare and species survival, and to the health of the planet.

CHALLENGE:
We get it. For many in our community, the unprecedented current crisis is challenging enough. We’re not asking you to jump right in (unless that works for you right now). Our “challenge” is to explore for yourself the myriad benefits of a whole-food, plant-based diet. We’re convinced that once you’re armed with this knowledge, personal changes will follow when the time is right for you. So, this month:

  1. Watch:
    1. Forks over Knives
    2. The Game Changers
    3. Cowspiracy (warning: some disturbing footage)
    4. Eating Animals
  2. Read:
    1. Health Benefits:
      1. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
      2. Nutritionfacts.org (and books by Dr. Michael Greger)
    2. Animal Welfare:
      1. Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
      2. Animal Liberation by Peter Singer
    3. Climate:
      1. We are the Weather by Jonathan Safran Foer (Hazon discussion guide here)
      2. Factory Farming & Food Safety
    4. General:
      1. In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
  3. Eat: Substitute vegetables, fruit, beans, and whole grains for animal products at one or more meals a week. If you use animal products, reduce the quantity and fill in with more plant-based dishes. Experiment with new options and plant-based recipes.
  4. Send us your favorite easy whole food, plant-based recipes and meal tips. We’ll compile a digital recipe book to share with the community.

ADVOCACY:

Join these organizations to become involved in system change:

  1. Jewish Initiative for Farm Animals
  2. Farm Forward
  3. Food Forward – Southern California’s Largest Urban Gleaning Nonprofit
  4. MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger
  5. Food & Water Watch

 

Join Us!

Hazon Seal of Sustainability

The Hazon Seal of Sustainability provides guidance and support to advance sustainability-related education, action, and advocacy in your Jewish institution, organization, and community. Rooted in Jewish tradition, participation in the Hazon Seal program will, over time, make your community healthier and more sustainable, both Jewishly and environmentally!

JOFEE Programs

JOFEE Fellows and JOFEE educators around the world have been creating thoughtful curricula for engaging participants from young to old. See resources on Food and Climate or Environmental Justice.

For inspiration and reflections on our weekly parsha, be sure to check out the D’varim HaMakom blog – each week JOFEE Fellows reflect on how their environmental work relates to the weekly Torah portion. We recommend Light in the DarkBlessing Family and the Earth, and Korach: Disruptive Visionary or Disgruntled Rabble-Rouser.

For more information about JOFEE or to find a JOFEE organization in your area, visit JOFEE.org.

Support Hazon

Contribute to our movement to lead the Jewish community to a more sustainable future. Give a one-time gift or set up a sustaining donation as you are able to. Make a donation.